Sunday, August 26, 2012

Craigslist 101

Craigslist is a goldmine, if you know how to use it.  I feel like I am about to reveal some sort of secret that once out will deplete my precious online resource, but I have decided to spill it anyhow to show you that design can be affordable if you are willing to put in a little time and elbow grease.

I’m assuming if you are at all online savvy and found your way to my blog that you are familiar with the concept of Craigslist.  It’s a free online listing service where you can post items for sale, amongst other services.  But let’s just stick to the “For Sale” section shall we?

I am constantly scouring Craigslist when I have a “project” idea in mind, meaning I search sometimes two or three times a day.  This may sound time consuming, but if you have figured out your search parameters then it helps narrow down the field and search time.

In the past we have scored the following with the help of Craigslist:

My husband’s (former) car from Las Vegas.

My car from Denver.

My husband’s new car from Kansas City.

This Steelcase office chair for $5 in Omaha that I reupholstered.

This butcher block counter top for $60 in Omaha that I refinished.

Recently (as in the last year) I have been on the hunt for a mid-century modern style dresser for our bedroom.  In past months I would search for dressers maybe once a week, but always came in a little too late.  Either I would hesitate and think about it for a few days, or I was calling several days after the dresser was posted.  This lead to heartbreak on many occasions as the “perfect” dresser was already gone.  But the magic of Craigslist is that another “perfect” dresser always comes along, something that my husband had to frequently remind me of.

One particular incident a few weeks ago finally pushed me to search every day until I had my dresser.  The dresser was $40, gorgeous, and I had a time set after work with the seller to buy it.  While at work I received a “SOLD IT!” email from the seller…I was more than disappointed, I was mad.

From that day on I searched nearly every day for the following:  “dresser” in “Furniture by owner” with image.

Last week I found two promising specimens.  One was a Broyhill Brasilia dresser listed for $575.  This may seem like a lot for an old dresser, but this line often sells for over $1000 on EBay.  I tried convincing the husband, and myself, that this was the perfect investment piece dresser.  Thankfully, he didn’t cave and kindly reminded me that I will find another more affordable dresser that I would love.

A few days after my heartbreak I spotted another potential dresser listed for $150.  Based on the pictures it was difficult to tell if this was indeed “the dresser”.  But I didn’t waste any time and I emailed the seller that I was interested.  I heard back right away, arranged a time on Thursday night to look at the dresser, and then I wasn’t able to make it.  But miracle of miracles, the seller emailed me on Friday and said the dresser was mine for $50 if I could pick it up that night.  So with the help of our good friend Dan and his truck, we finally have our mid-century dresser.

Isn’t it a beaut?  It has a few scratches and water marks from cups, but with a little refinishing I think it will really shine!

For those of you novice Craigslisters I would offer the following tips:

1)  Figure out key words for your search terms.  I searched “dresser” but also, “midcentury” “mid-century” “mid century” and “Danish”. 
2)  Limit your search to posts containing an image.  With no picture, you really have little clue of what you are getting yourself into and will likely waste your time going to look at it.

3)  Search for “by owner”.  This eliminates all of the dealers out there selling those awful 7 piece furniture sets.  They always include popular search phrases in their descriptions so they will pop up with almost any search you perform.

4)  Don’t let bad photos fool you.  You are not looking for perfection.  Look instead for good bones (i.e. solid wood, dovetail joints, functioning drawers).  Minor imperfections can be fixed.

5)  Act immediately.  Send an email or call if there is a phone number listed.  Don’t offer to purchase the piece, but say that you would like to arrange a time to stop buy and take a look.  You can always back out once you see it in person.

6)  If the posting is vague, ask additional questions or for more pictures.  Depending on the item and the price he seller may be more or less inclined to answer your questions or provide pictures.  If the item is selling for $10, they probably just want to get rid of it and won’t bother answering.

7)  If you are traveling out of town and have been looking for a particular item (i.e. car) search Craigslist in that city before heading there.  Often you can arrange a day and time before heading there and find out where the item is located if you are unfamiliar with the city.

8)  Do your research.  If you are looking for something antique Google it to see what they typically sell for on EBay or other sites.  Use this to your advantage when haggling a price if the item is overpriced.  A lot of items are overpriced on Craigslist, which people eventually realize when their stuff doesn’t sell.

9)  Use imperfections to your advantage when deciding on a price.  Point out to the seller that you will have to do some refinishing.

10)  Carry the right amount of cash with you, but separate out enough for just your starting offer.  Don’t pull out a wad in front of the seller, but then only offer them half. 

Now I admit that I am HORRIBLE at haggling prices.  The Broyhill Brasilia dresser?  I totally would have paid the $575 they were initially asking since I saw that they commonly sell for twice that amount.  Luckily with the dresser we came home with I didn’t even have to haggle.  The seller dropped the price on his own by $100 and $50 was a fair price, no haggling needed there.

My husband on the other hand is never afraid of negotiating a good deal.  I think with me I’m just afraid of offending the seller?  Or maybe I just hate confrontation?  Either way, it makes me uncomfortable.  But that is something that I will continue to work on with my future Craigslist ventures.

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